Content Warning: This episode may include themes of Ableism, Animal death, Death + Injury, Birds, Emotional Manipulation, and Character Death.
Intro - It's Ended Before
Reporter: ...panic across America with what reporters have dubbed ‘the black rains’...
Reporter: ...executive action required as the Botulus Corporation…
Oswald Biggs Botulus: ...now, more than ever, we are here for you...
Lady Ethel: …everything is going to be fine…
The heavens are filled with fire, and news anchors proclaim the end of the world like horsemen, and helicopters swarm the sky like locusts, but you are not afraid.
Your world has already ended once, although the fire was that of God’s wrath and the broken seals were messages from your parents. We cannot support you in this, your father will never forgive you, your things are in the yard.
Yes, your world has ended before. You hold your partner’s hand briefly. You ask if they are ready, but you know deep down that no one is ever ready to leave their world behind. You walk together into the fire, and hope that there is life in the ashes after the end. You do not know it yet, but the horizon waits for you, and sings 'Hello From The Hallowoods'.
Right now, I’m sitting in a spruce tree. There are no ravens. I can see the wall of the Scoutpost from here, and two souls perched on the parapet. They’re crooked little things, but aren’t we all. One of them hopes to hear no more music, and one of them is writing. The theme of tonight’s episode is Revelations.
Story 1 - A Shadow In The Wind
I know three things
My name is Diggory Graves
It was made for me like my jacket
Irene scares me a little when I think of her
But I know she would tuck me into bed
And can a lady like that be too scary?
I wish I knew her at all.
I am dead.
But I can walk
I can hum little tunes
I can play the piano
I can be happy when Percy is around
So maybe it doesn’t matter too much if I am dead
I think I found what I was looking for and that is best of all
He has nice eyes that look like the sky at night when he is sad
When he is happy it is morning instead
I know that he is a ghost but with him I feel most alive
Do I love him? I think so
Do I know what love means? I do not know
Maybe someday I’ll feel it and realize that until then
I’d never felt it at all
Or maybe I’ll never know what it means because I never really feel
Or maybe someday I’ll find I always had it with me
Like a piece of bone in my pocket.
“What are you writing?” Percy asked.
“I am writing a song,” Diggory said. “It is not very good yet. Or a song.”
“I’m sure it’s great,” Percy said, floating up to put his head against Diggory’s shoulder, passing through the surface of their jacket.
“Maybe you should write a song,” Diggory said. “Riot says they are good for expressing your feelings.”
“I don’t feel like writing a song,” Percy said.
“Of course,” Diggory said, and closed their little book. “Would you like to go for a walk?”
The black pines were heavy with dew that had not quite disappeared into the red morning light. Percy flowed like mist beside Diggory, almost one with the fog.
“I think it would be foolish to ask if you are alright?” Diggory said. “But I am here when you need to talk.”
“I’m not used to talking about this stuff,” Percy said. “It’s all so tragic, isn’t it? My whole family is dead, me included. And the worst part is it’s better this way. Because now we can walk out here and I’m not afraid of hearing violins in the trees.”
Diggory nodded, and eyed a nearby tree before leaping up into it. Their claws dug into the black bark, and they pulled themself up most of the trunk, rising above the treeline. The black canopy of the forest stretched around them like an ocean, shifting gently in the breeze. The thin towers of the Scoutpost were visible in the distance, still decorated with flowers and little colored flags flying.
Diggory became aware of Percy’s transparent arms around their neck.
“I am glad,” Diggory said, “That I woke up. That I went walking and met you. For all the misfortune we have crossed together, I am glad I did not sleep.”
“Me too,” Percy said. “I thought I was going to always be miserable. Trapped. It doesn’t make everything better, exactly, but you’re the one good thing I have.”
He twirled his remaining string around his finger. The light bled through the air to the locket around Diggory’s neck, a book with hands crossed in prayer on the front. Its silver pages held the last fragment of Percy’s broken piano key.
“Then as long as you want to be here, I will walk with you,” Diggory nodded.
“What about you?” Percy said. “Don’t you have some weird memory mission? North something?”
“The North will be there,” Diggory said. “I have… found myself, a little more. And the lives that came before me are not the same as mine. This is where I want to be.”
“So what do we do?” Percy asked.
“I think we stop walking, for a while,” Diggory said. “Violet and Bern have taken us in. They will need help. And the others like me—Leyland, Cookery, Floris, Townsend, Huntington, Stitchery—I can help them. This could be our home.”
“I’m scared of that,” Percy said. “Home for me has always been a place I wasn’t allowed to leave.”
“Do you feel trapped with me?” Diggory asked.
“No,” Percy said, hovering in the morning wind. “You’re a better kind of home.”
Diggory looked out on the forest, mist rising from the treetops. In the distance, there might have been mountains, or just huge clouds caught in the sunlight.
It still called them, pulled them North, but they felt a strange sense of belonging. They supposed it might be peace, or at least an absence of loneliness.
On the other side of the Scoutpost, on the stony hill where they had attended Walt’s funeral, there was a trace of smoke.
“We should probably get over there, I think they’ve already started,” Percy said.
“Yes,” Diggory said, and leaped from the tree, landing silently. They began to run, black needles flying past them as they sailed through the underbrush, a shadow in the wind.
Interlude 1 - No More Music
If you hear music in the forest, dreamers, echoes of violins or dark horns in the trees at night, it is not the Instrumentalist. He is dead, and the morning is bright over the Hallowoods. This great forest is haunted by many things, but no longer will the whispering orchestra be one of them. Already, the world begins to move in his absence.
The junk collectors and scavengers pick the bones of his home clean; whatever is left intact after the fires burned out, at least. The wall of trees has collapsed to encompass his grounds, and his grass lawn and sunflower beds have already returned to the wilderness.
His former servants have found new purpose at the Scoutpost. The Froglins hear no more frightening sounds when they venture inland, and grow bolder. Sounds of celebration reach even the ears of Fort Freedom.
In other news, the Church of the Hallowed Name is now taking applications for a new Instrumentalist.
We go now to one celebrating the demise of Solomon Reed.
Story 2 - The Last of the Goodbyes
It was morning, and Riot had slept well. She crunched a piece of rough toast in her teeth, but there was already work to do. She set the pieces of a violin in their own pile.
Riot looked across the hillside; the pile of ash where Walt had turned into the sky, and the Scoutpost lookout nests in the distance. Violet and Bern walked up the slope together, carrying several trumpets and the dented shell of a tuba. Beside her, Clara laid out the remains of a concertina, and Zelda sat cross-legged beside Al’s toy drum and a collection of flutes.
Riot resisted the urge to jump on Clara and kiss her, but inwardly she was celebrating every moment that Clara was here. She was alive. All of Riot’s nightmares had been wrong. And nothing would ever keep them apart again. After all, if they had taken down the Instrumentalist together, what else could stand in their way?
Clara had been a little distant since their reunion. That’s normal, Riot thought, we’ve both been through a lot, and we haven’t seen each other in ages. Even so, she seemed to avoid Riot’s eyes.
“So what did you do at this ‘library’?” Riot said. “Did you have a potions class? Is it even a library if they give out stuff like flying broomsticks? Can I get a broomstick?”
“Lots of study,” Clara sighed. “And old books. I was learning to do… well. I guess you’ll see in a moment.”
“Cool,” Riot said.
“Riot?” Clara said. “I have something weird to tell you.”
“Yeah?” Riot scooched up closer to her. Clara looked at her with a strange expression on her face.
“I met Lady Ethel? While I was at Solomon’s. She took something from him.”
Riot sat back in confusion. That was the last thing she would have expected to hear, and the hair on the back of her neck bristled. Was Lady Ethel still here? Was she out there, watching them somehow?
“You… met Lady Ethel? And she didn’t kidnap you and stick you in a box or something?”
“There’s no reason she’d know who I am, right? But… she’s huge. Tall, I mean. Like as tall as a tree.”
“Wait, like literally?”
“Yeah,” Clara laughed. “I was terrified. She looked kind of hungry.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Riot said. “But okay. You met Lady Ethel. Did you say anything about me?”
“Of course not. But she said she was leaving here for good. She was there to pick something up from Solomon.”
“Lady Ethel and Solomon were friends?” Riot said. She felt like she might lie down and throw up. “Gross.”
“I guess. He gave her his ‘method’, whatever that means.”
“I don’t want to think about that,” Riot frowned. New from Botco, turn your grandma into a guitar your kids will love. Available whether you like it or not.
“Should we get started?” Clara said, glancing over the hilltop.
“Still not sure what we’re doing, exactly,” Violet said. Bern sat down against a rock beside her; she had gotten a fire going at Clara’s request.
“Right,” Clara said. “These are the instruments that weren’t totally destroyed in the fire. There are still people attached to all of these.”
Bern put a hand on her crossbow. “Any of ‘em looking at me?”
“No,” Clara said. “Most of them want to leave, I think. If it’s okay, I’ll start sending them off.”
“You can do that?” Violet said.
“I think so,” Clara said, and Riot blinked. It had been weird that Clara could see Dogsmell when Riot couldn’t that well, but this was a little more intense.
She turned around and realized Diggory had arrived beside them. A trace of shimmering light, blurring the treetops, told her Percy was here too.
“I hope we are not late,” Diggory said.
“Not at all,” Clara looked at them with a little concern. “I was just getting started.”
Percy shined a little brighter, like the moon in the morning sky.
“I want to say goodbye to my mom,” he said.
“Right, ah…” Clara glanced around, and Zelda held up a small fife with bone inset.
“This is the lady,” she said.
Clara took it gently from her hands, and Riot watched as a shining woman appeared in the air beside Percy, glowing softly. She pulled Percy into her arms, and their forms blended together as she held him close, and Riot tried not to stare at the back of her head.
After a long moment, she drifted away from Percy, and Riot noticed that there were loose threads trailing from her dress into the fife in Clara’s hands. Clara looked up to the ghost, and placed her palm against the woman’s shoulder. Riot wondered if there might be a flash of light or scattered particles, a last dance in her swirling dress, but in the next moment, she was simply gone.
Riot could not see Percy, either, but Diggory sat down heavily on the earth.
The rest of the collection took over an hour for Clara to go through, and for the most part Riot sat breaking twigs in her fingers, or pacing around.
From each instrument’s husk, Clara coaxed the last trace of a person’s light, and one by one set them free. Some were triumphant, and some utterly still, as they vanished from Riot’s sight and presumably were cut loose from the mortal coil. Each instrument, an empty shell, was placed in the fire—burning like Solomon’s own home, never again to house their prisoners.
Eventually, there was one left, and Clara approached the little toy drum by Zelda.
“Al,” Zelda said, “tell the nice young woman what you were telling me.”
Al appeared in the circle, and stared at the group with his usual wide eyes. He held his little bony hands politely.
“Hi everybody,” he said. “I’m Al. If it’s okay, I think I wanna stay. You seem really nice. I…”
He stuttered for a moment. “I don’t wanna be dead.”
“It’s just a year for strange neighbors, isn’t it?” Bern sighed.
“You’re sure you’re happy like this?” Violet asked carefully.
“Don’t worry,” Zelda said, patting the drum. “He’s a good kid. I’ll keep him out of trouble.”
“And we can play games,” Al said.
“Well alright then. Welcome to the Scoutpost family, Al,” Violet said.
“Yay!” Al said, and Riot lost sight of him as he went sprinting around the circle.
“Hey Clara?” Riot whispered, and tugged on the edge of Clara’s cloak.
“The… the pile of stones over there, with the ash and burnt wood and stuff. There’s no grumpy old guy standing next to it, is there?”
Clara looked to the pyre quietly. “No. Should there be?”
“No,” Riot said. “I just wanted to make sure.”
Riot stood up, and cracked her back and her knuckles, and put her arm over Clara’s shoulders.
“Well, I guess we should head home,” she said. “I cleaned up the RV. And you’ll like the Scoutpost. There’s even a little library.”
Clara pulled away from her, and glanced at the rest of the group before looking at Riot.
“Riot… I don’t really know how to say this. I know you’ve missed me a lot. I’ve missed you too. But I can’t stay here,” she said. “I’m going back to the library.”
Marketing - The Reunion
Lady Ethel: Just waiting now… dreamers across the Prime Dream are holding their breath for this emotional moment. Valerie Maidstone waits in her hospital bed, and her daughter, separated from her for so long, is finally strong enough to visit. She should come through those doors any moment now…
Valerie: Riot? Oh god, honey, are you okay?
Riot: I’m alright, mom. I’m alright.
Valerie: I’ve been so worried about you.
Riot: You don’t have to worry any more. I’m here. I’m safe.
Valerie: Riot, why did you leave the bunker?
Riot: I’m… not sure. I probably needed some space. I can’t believe that Botco Reunion Organizers were able to find us.
Valerie: ‘Reunion Organizers’?
Riot: Mom, they’ve told me everything. About you. About the Stonemaids.
Valerie: Oh I’m sure they have. I can’t believe that they...
Riot: Is it true? That you want to destroy the Prime Dream?
Valerie: Since when do you care about the Prime Dream?
Riot: I know you had your big grudge match with Lady Ethel, but look around you, mom. There’s a whole world in here. It’s filled with innocent, good people. They don’t deserve to have their homes destroyed, do they?
Valerie: It’s never been about destroying homes.
Riot: Good. I knew it couldn’t be true.
Valerie: It’s about freedom. It’s about being able to leave. It’s about being treated like actual human beings.
Riot: A lot of terrible things have been done in the name of freedom.
Valerie: Why are we talking about this?
Riot: I think we were… wrong. We were out there for years, living off frozen curry that’s older than I am, but… we’re here now. We’re still okay. Is this place really so bad if we’re together?
Valerie: ..no, I guess it’s not.
Riot: They asked me to bring these.
Valerie: Nightmare goggles?
Riot: Dreaming Visors. Yeah. I haven’t been in yet. Will you… go with me?
Riot: Okay. Thank you. On three?
Valerie: On three.
Together: One. Two. Three.
Story 2, Continued - The Last of the Goodbyes
How touching. Would you look at that, Stonemaids. Valerie put on some glasses. I guess now it’s time to go back to sleep and stop complaining.
Not that you can hear me within those walls, but keep it up, Stonemaids. There are far more of you than Botco is willing to admit, and this is no final blow.
We return now to a Riot Maidstone.
“I thought you said the library sucked,” Riot said. “Also they rented you out to help Solomon. What, do you wanna be the next Olivier?”
Clara held her broom uncomfortably, and Riot was instantly sorry.
“The library does suck. But I can handle it. It’s important to me. I always thought I just had nightmares or hallucinations or something. But the things I see are real. Like Dogsmell here.”
There was a shimmer of light by her feet.
“And the more I know about myself, the more I can fix things. Like I did today. They’re the only ones who can teach me.”
“Okay,” Riot sighed, and rubbed at her buzz cut. “So you keep going there. But we can still be… together, right?”
“I’ll visit when I can,” Clara said quietly. “But I might be busy.”
“Is that a yes or a no?” Riot said, crossing her arms. Clara was distancing herself, like an adult trying to give a child bad news. It hurt more than usual coming from her.
Clara looked at the group. Violet and Bern glanced away politely, and Zelda was talking to the air—probably to Al.
“Come with me,” Clara said, putting a leg over her broom. Its black-stained bristles seemed to electrify, and the broom lifted her a few inches off the ground, taking on a force that pulled the wind around it. Clara held out her hand. “Just for a bit.”
“Does it hold two?” Riot said, squinting.
“It’ll be fine,” Clara laughed.
That laugh could get Riot to do just about anything. She slung a combat boot over the broom, fitting in behind Clara. She flinched as it rose off the ground, lifting them both without effort as it shifted into the air. It was much less turbulent than being kidnapped by Olivier.
It was surprisingly easy to keep her balance, and the air around them seemed to keep them stable as the ground grew distant beneath Riot’s feet. The broom lifted up through the black pines, hovering between the dark expanse of the woods and the cold blue sky above.
“Riot, I really like you,” Clara said. “And I loved every one of the days we were in the RV together. But I also have to do what’s right for me. And I know if I don’t take this chance now, I’ll always be wondering about it. I might even be able to find a cure for my parents.”
“Yeah,” Riot sighed, and put her head on Clara’s back. “I get it.”
“The view’s pretty, isn’t it?” Clara said.
“So we’re breaking up,” Riot said.
“Aw. Riot. I wouldn’t put it like that,” Clara said, holding Riot’s hand in hers. The forest drifted beneath them in lazy circles, and Clara leaned back to look at her.
“I’ll just… see you when I see you, you know?”
Riot was choking up, and heat flashed in her forehead and behind her eyes.
“I’m going to miss you,” she said.
“I won’t be far,” Clara smiled, though tears were rolling down her cheeks. “You can always come visit the library.”
Riot rubbed at her face. “I can?”
“Of course,” Clara said. “And like I said, I’ll drop by the Scoutpost when I can. But… also.”
Alsos were bad, Riot decided.
“I don’t think you should wait around for me? I’m doing my own thing for a little while. I feel like my whole life I spent taking care of other people. I need this. You should enjoy your life too, you know? What do you want to do?”
“Kiss you,” Riot said.
“I mean it,” Clara said, a serious look crossing her face.
“I… I’ll figure something out,” Riot breathed. You know what? You’re going off to live in your crazy library with all your books? I can keep secrets too. You don’t have to take care of me. No one does.
“Okay,” Clara said. “Riot? Thank you for saving my life.”
“Well yeah,” Riot said. “Clara? I’m… I’m glad you’re happy.”
“This got awkward,” Clara said.
“Yeah. It really did.”
They began to sink out of the sky, the wind catching in Riot’s vest as they descended to the hilltop by Walt’s pyre. The last of the instruments had charred in the fire, and Zelda had already begun to walk back for the Scoutpost.
“So are you leaving right now?” Riot said as they touched down, and she slid off the broom.
“I should check back, yeah,” Clara said, and adjusted the bag on her side.
Riot hugged her hard, and rubbed her tears away on Clara’s cape.
“Okay. I’ll… see you soon.”
Clara smiled at her, and there was the smallest hint of fire in her deep brown eyes. “See you soon.”
Clara was gone in a moment, lifting up into the sky with a burst of wind, and sailed like a bird across the trees and out of sight.
The rest of the evening passed in a tearful blur, and when Riot emerged from her room it was night. Her cheeks burned and her face ached from crying. It wasn’t even a bad cry, like she wished something else would have happened. It just had to get out.